Robert Frost, DACA, and the Wall

Robert Frost, DACA, and the Wall


"Good fences make good neighbors" is the most famous line of Robert Frost's poem, Mending Wall. Some may think that President Trump has aligned himself with, arguably, America's greatest poet, as he relentlessly pursues his border wall.

A more careful reading, however, makes clear that it is not the poet who argues the case for good fences; it is the poet's neighbor. Told in the first person, and it would seem to be Frost himself who says:


Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out

And to whom I was like to give offense.


As for the neighbor, Frost says:


I see him there

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me


The irony of the poem is that it is the Frost-character who initiates the wall repairing ritual each spring, it being the one contact that he has with his "old-stone savage" neighbor. And, while not quite analogous, perhaps it is time for the Democrats in Congress to allow their "darkness" dwelling neighbor in the White House to build his wall.

The arguments against building the wall are two-fold. First, the standard policy questions. What is the purpose? Is this the best way to achieve that purpose? Will it even be successful? On all this, let us stipulate that it is foolish policy. So what? In times of recession, Keynes taught us that it makes sense for government to hire people to dig holes and then to fill them up. The wall is somewhat more sensible. At least it will provide employment, and perhaps the actual timing of our "shovel ready" project could be linked to macro-economic triggers.

The second argument is symbolic. Trump has linked a technical question of border security to the fundamental moral issues about the American core. Are we a xenophobic society with contempt for the stranger, one that demonizes our less fortunate neighbors to the south? Are we a society so shaken by 9/11 that we cower in the face of human desperation? Or are we the nation of the Statue of Liberty, the fierce lady of New York harbor who stood unshaken even as the towers fell? Do we embrace Emma Lazarus, another great American poet, who wrote:


Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch . . .

and her name

Mother of Exiles . . .cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, . . .


The struggle over the wall is the struggle over the meaning of America. How then can I urge allowing the President to have his way? The answer resides in seeing clearly our situation and giving name to it: We are in a hostage crisis. Though legally not a terrorist, our Chief of Police has taken hostage 700,000 dreamers, young Americans who were brought here illegally as children, and he threatens to break their lives if he does not get his wall. He could not have been more clear when he tweeted: "If there is no WALL, there is no DACA."

The lives of the hostages are one important battle in the long war for America that is upon us. We will challenge each and every one of the Trump Gang in the mid-term elections, and we will turn this Chief out of office in 2020, if not before. The great mistake for Democrats in Congress is if they dig-in against the wall out of electoral calculations, out of reluctance to allow Mr. Trump to fulfill one more promise, and thus firm up his base. If our Democratic lawmakers wish to turn this to political advantage, they might hire a professional hostage negotiator and have a note passed to the man in the White House with this counter-proposal:

  • Release the hostages.
  • Build the damn wall.
  • Pay for it by raising the new corporate tax rate by a percent or two, or by restoring the estate tax.

Thus, even if wasteful spending, let it not be the average American who bears the burden. And if he refuses even this, then we must give in: Free the hostages.

And then, the American people will go to the polls in November and there will be accountability.